Pool Re examines the impact of bladed weapon attacks in Europe?


The use of bladed weapons generally result in far fewer fatalities and less damage than other methods of attack, so why have they become more common? Despite their lower impact, the cumulative effect of these attacks can undermine public confidence and businesses can experience loss of attraction, leading to longer-term losses and damage to the economy.

Bladed weapon attacks: a new phenomenon?

Terrorists using bladed weapons to conduct attacks is not a new phenomenon.  In 2010, Stephen Timms MP was stabbed by Islamist extremist at a constituency surgery.  Three years later, Lee Rigby was killed by terrorists in a combined knife and vehicle attack.  In May 2016, Al Qaeda’s flagship English publication Inspire exhorted followers to conduct bladed weapon attacks.  Shortly thereafter, Daesh followed suit, publishing guidance and circulating instructional videos online.  The success of Daesh’s propagation of ‘low complexity’ methodologies saw a rapid increase in bladed weapon attacks in Europe from 2014.  While 2017 represented a high point for bladed weapon attacks, their frequency remains well above historical averages, and Great Britain experienced three in as many months between November 2019 and February 2020.  In response, Pool Re has compiled and analysed a dataset of attacks involving bladed weapons which have occurred in Europe over the past 13 months to assess their implications for the (re)insurance market and other stakeholders.

Key findings:

  • Bladed weapon attacks have become the favoured methodology of terrorists in Europe because they are quick to plan, easy to execute, and hard to prevent;
  • Furthermore, such attacks fulfil the limited objectives of the most prolific terrorist actors: ample media attention, public alarm, and in many cases, ‘martyrdom’ for the attacker;
  • However, their rudimentary nature means that bladed weapon attacks typically have a limited physical impact and cause minimal losses;
  • Many recent bladed weapon attacks in Europe have not resulted in any fatalities, caused relatively few serious injuries, and rarely resulted in damage to property;
  • While bladed weapon attacks can cause significant business interruption losses, instances of this are rare, as cordons are generally limited in both extent and duration;
  • While the longer-term, cumulative impact of multiple bladed weapon attacks may affect public confidence and ultimately lead to loss of attraction, which impacts businesses, the immediate economic impact of such attacks is normally small and unlikely to exceed policyholders’ retentions;
  • Crisis management and business continuity planning and exercises are indispensable tools for minimising the impact of bladed weapon attacks on businesses.

Authored by Eden Stewart, Senior Analyst: Risk Awareness Team – Solutions


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